Very early questions and answers

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by hanzosbm, Nov 7, 2017.

  1. hanzosbm

    hanzosbm Premium Member

    In reading Preston's Illustrations of Masonry, I came across an interesting early letter I thought I would share. It claims to be a copy of a manuscript wherein King Henry VI is questioning someone about Masons. This would date it to around the mid 1400's. The language of the original in middle English, so I don't doubt the age. Whether it was truly the king doing the questioning could be debated, but it's not impossible. It's a very interesting manuscript for a few reasons. First, it is a different version of the origins than I have seen elsewhere, stating it came from the East by way of Venetians. Secondly, that this early on they were referring to the institution as a fraternity and to the members as brethren. Third, that the secrets they kept had to do with matters beyond simply trade secrets. And finally, that there is a very definite emphasis on Masons being generally of higher moral character than the rest of society. This last part is communicated in a very fair and balanced way leading me to think that it isn't purely rhetoric. All of this at a time when most historians say that Masons were a purely operative group. While it's impossible to know exactly what the Masons of this time were like, this has definitely altered my views on them and I thought I would share.

    Here is a link to the document as well as some added commentary:

    I have also taken the liberty to clean up and modernize it a bit. This was quite challenging and a knowledge of the German language was helpful. Still, there were a few words I wasn't sure about and it's possible that I made the wrong "translation" on others, so take my version with a grain of salt.

    A Letter from the learned Mr. John Locke, to the Right Hon. Thomas Earl of

    Pembroke, with an old Manuscript on the subject of Free-Masonry.

    6th May, 1696

    My Lord,

    I have at length, by the help of Mr. Collins, procured a copy of that MS. in the Bodleian library,

    which you were so curious to see: and, in obedience to your lordship's commands, I herewith send it

    to you. Most of the notes annexed to it, are what I made yesterday for the reading of my Lady

    Masham, who is become so fond of masonry, as to say, that she now more than ever wishes herself a

    man, that she might be capable of admission into the fraternity.

    The MS. of which this is a copy, appears to be about 160 years old; yet (as your lordship will observe

    by the title) it is itself a copy of one yet more ancient by about 100 years: for the original is said to be

    the hand-writing of K. Henry VI. Where that prince had it, is at present an uncertainty; but it seems to

    me to be an examination (taken perhaps before the king) of some one of the brotherhood of masons;

    among whom he entered himself, as it is said, when he came out of his minority, and thenceforth put a

    stop to a persecution that had been raised against them: But I must not detain your lordship longer by

    my preface from the thing itself.

    I know not what effect the sight of this old paper may have upon your lordship; but for my own part I

    cannot deny, that it has so much raised my curiosity, as to induce me to enter myself into the

    fraternity, which I am determined to do (if I may be admitted) the next time I go to London, and that

    will be shortly. I am,

    My Lord And most humble servant,

    John Locke

    Certain Questions, with Answers to the same, concerning the Mystery of Masonry;

    written by the hand of king Henry, the sixth of the name, and faithfully copied

    by me (1) Johan Leylande, Antiquarius, by the command of his (2) Highness

    Quest. What mote it be? (3)

    Answ. It beeth the skill of nature, the understanding of the might that is herein, and its

    particular workings; particularly, the skill of numbers, of weights and measures, and the true

    manner of fashioning all things for men’s use; chiefly, dwellings, and buildings of all kinds,

    and all other things that make good to men.

    Quest. Where did it begin?

    Answ. It did begin with the first men in the east, which were before the first

    men of the west, and coming westerly, it hath brought herewith all comforts to the wild

    and comfortless.

    Quest. Who did bring it westerly?

    Answ. The Venetians, who being great merchants, came first from the east in

    Venetia, for the commodity of marchaundysynge both the east and west by the Red and

    Mediterranean seas.

    Quest. Howe came it in England?

    Answ. Peter Gower a Grecian, journeyed for knowledge in Egypt, and in Syria, and in

    every land whereas the Venetians had planted masonry, and winning entrance in all

    lodges of masons, he learned much, and returned, and dwelt in Grecia Magna, growing,

    and becoming a mighty wyseacre, and greatly renowned, and here he framed a grate lodge

    at Groton, and made many masons, some whereoff did journey in France, and made

    many masons, wherefrom, in process of time, the art passed in England.

    Quest. Do masons discover their arts unto others?

    Answ. Peter Gower, when he journeyed to learn, was first made, and anon taught;

    even so should all others beyn right. Nevertheless masons have always, in every time,

    from time to time, communicated to mankind such of her secrets as generally might be

    useful; they have kept back such alone as should be harmful if they came in evil

    hands, or such as any might be beneficial without the techniques to be joined herewith in

    the lodge, or such as do bind the brethren more strongly together, bey the profit and

    commodity coming to the fraternity herefrom.

    Quest. What arts have the masons taught mankind?

    Answ. The arts agriculture, architecture, astronomy, geometry, numbers, music, poetry,

    chemistry, government, and religion.

    Quest. How came masons more teachers than other men?

    Answ. They themselves have alone in art of finding new arts, which are the first

    masons rescued from God; by the which they find what arts they please, and the true

    way of teaching the same, what other men do find out, is only by chance, and

    therefore but little I tro.

    Quest. What do the masons conceal and hide?

    Answ. They conceal the art of finding new arts, and that is for their own profit, and

    honor: They conceal the art of keeping secrets, that so the world may nothing

    conceal from them. They conceal the art of working miracles, and of prophesizing things to

    come, that so the same arts may not be used of the wicked to an evil end. They also

    conceal the art of changes, the way of winning the faculty of Abrac, the skill of

    becoming good and parfyghte without the benefits of fere and hope; and the universal

    longage of masons.

    Quest. Will he teach me their same arts?

    Answ. Ye shall be taught if ye be worthy, and able to learn.

    Quest. Do all masons know more than other men?

    Answ. Not so. They only have right and occasyonne more than other men to know, but

    many do fail in capacity, and many more do want industry, that is absolutely necessary for the

    gaining all knowledge.

    Quest. Are masons better men then others?

    Answ. Some masons are not so virtuous as some other men; but, in the most part, they be

    more good than they would be if they were not masons.

    Quest. Do masons love each other mightily as beeth fayde?

    Answ. Yea verily, and it may not otherwise be: for good men and true, knowing each other

    to be such, do always love the more as they be more good.
    streeter and Bro. Stewart P.M. like this.
  2. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

    Peter Gower may be Pythagoras.

    >They also conceal the art of changes, the way of winning the faculty of Abrac, the skill of becoming good and parfyghte without the benefits of fere and hope

    It seems that this is all the result of the art of changes - presumably alchemy. Abrac is more commonly abracadabra. And perfection in humans is said to result from ingestion of the stone.
  3. hanzosbm

    hanzosbm Premium Member

    Peter Gower and Pythagoras...I don't know. Maybe.

    Regarding alchemy, I definitely think you're on the right track. The art of changes, references a magic word, and being able to become good and perfect without the benefits of (fear?) and hope, two things attributed to God. It sounds like they're saying that Masons are able to obtain things thought to only be possible through God by using some sort of magic, which alchemy could certainly be used as a synonym for.
  4. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

    >alchemy could certainly be used as a synonym

    The 18th degree is full of alchemical references - generally overlaid with Christian symbolism.
  5. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

    hanzosbm likes this.
  6. hanzosbm

    hanzosbm Premium Member

    After looking into this a bit more, I'm almost 100% certain you are correct about Peter Gower being Pythagoras.
    First, his name is similar. He is said to have created a lodge at Groton, and as you already mentioned, Pythagoras had his school at Croton. Peter Gower dwelt in Magna Grecia, Pythagoras' school at Croton is in Magna Grecia. Peter Gower studied in Egypt and Syria, there are reports of Pythagoras meeting with teachers in Egypt and Syria.
    This would seem to indicate that the person being questioned believed the Masons originated with Pythagorean teachings. What we don't know, is to what degree. Was it just Pythagoras' scientific teachings, or his philosophical and theosophical teachings as well?
  7. Warrior1256

    Warrior1256 Site Benefactor

    A very interesting subject. I will read on it further.
  8. Luigi Visentin

    Luigi Visentin Registered User

    I have found this old thread which is pretty interesting therefore I want to add something: the John Locke manuscript is currently considered a false. Not only the original copy in German has never been found but also the English is a counterfeit Middle Age English. However it was very popular in the eighteen century and in my opinion is based on a real text that has been modified by the publisher. However the person who has published it has not only tried to make it look older but has he tried to mislead the reader or to give an explanation without knowing the real meaning of what he wanted to clarify.

    This is more evident in the notes which followed the text but that are not reported in the first post of this thread. One of these notes tells that the "Venetians" indicated in the text should be read as "Phoenicians". Another one tells that Peter Gower is Pythagoras as also above indicated in this thread.
    I'm of the opinion, however, that both these notes are wrong: the Venetians are the "Venetians" and Peter Gower is not Pythagoras but he was a "Grecian" exactly like Naymus "Grecus" (who was another person). Please note that I have put both the terms in brackets because all these terms must be taken with care because, for example the Masonic "Venice" has nothing to do with the Italian "Venezia" but the name is not wrong because the latin name of this town was "Civitas Venetum".
  9. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

    "Quest. What do the masons conceal and hide?

    Answ. They conceal the art of finding new arts"

    This is an interesting proposition.

    The obvious options are:

    - Masons had access to a group or groups with knowledge beyond that in the public domain. Signs of this can be seen where the new third degree (Hiram) appears only 2 years after the Noah third degree appears in London and immediately replaces the older ancient landmark. Also we have the higher degrees announced by Ramsay. Another sign is that the earliest gothic cathedrals were the best and highest with the skills appearing fully developed - from an undisclosed source.

    - Masons had access to metaphysical states whereby new knowledge can appear. Certainly in the Renaissance some very profound spirits incarnated as humans and demonstrated new knowledge. Not all of those were publicly known and much of the ancient literature that was "discovered" in the Middle Ages was very likely authored by them - claiming to have found and translated then lost an ancient manuscript. Also the Kabbalah was regarded as a significant means for communicating with higher beings.

    - Masons knew that such access was possible and wished to train brethren in the hope that those brethren might succeed where they had not

    - Masons were lying.

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